Organizational leadership will face a recurring pressure to adapt rapidly — or fail
The mid- and long-term effects of the current global pandemic have yet to show their true numbers. The economic impact on major industries will continue to ripple out, disrupting supply chains, advancing bankruptcies and entirely reshaping the very nature of how business is done.
While there is still much left to be learned, one thing is clear — this will not be the last major market disruption business leaders will experience. This crisis environment and sweeping changes will likely become a recurring theme. Organizations and industries with leadership prepared and willing to adapt will succeed. Those who fight the change and stick to the status quo will be shuttered for good.
Regardless of no one wanting to hear it, it is true: Our industries and markets will never be the same. Plato said, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Leadership around the world have started to and will continue to rethink how business is done — from manufacturing, distribution and supply chains, to service delivery and remote work.
Innovative leaders and organizations will thrive, and new cottage industries will emerge to take the place of aging or dead ways of doing business. Specifically, we will see major competitors to Amazon. We will see a monumental rise in home delivery over brick-and-mortar shopping and dining. Commercial real estate must pivot in response to a new norm as demand for large gathering spaces will continue to weaken.
Organizationally and internally, leadership must adapt traditional office norms to virtual work-from-home teams. Technologies that enable virtual environments, including AI, will increase in demand and output. Organizations are implementing digital tools at a rapid rate to enable personal and professional collaboration. Long live the virtual happy hour.
And with unemployment at unprecedented levels, leadership now has access to new talent that will be hungry for work. Leadership can take advantage of this time to improve its talent pool and weed-out any employees unwilling to or failing to adapt to the changing times.
In all, for leadership to stand tall into the uncertain future, they need to be proactive: Diversify revenue streams and implement technology now to enable your organization into the future. They must be balanced: Rethink traditional work environments, supply chains, physical spaces, and be ready to handle the “old normal” and “new normal” in equal measure. And they have to be innovative: Rethink and rebuild your business model, business processes, M&A strategies and technologies to enable greater flexibility and responsiveness to whatever the future brings.
Today is the day that most people (except all the smart folks in Arizona) change their clocks for daylight savings time. This bi-annual event got me thinking about the signs that change is needed in our organizations.
Change is hard. For many people it's really hard. Many people with good intentions (preserve a legacy, honor a founder, fear of breaking something) get stuck and double down on a strategy that, should they remove emotion and gaze beyond the current situation or pain point, is obviously wrong to even a casual observer.
Such is the challenge for good leaders. Balancing the past with the here and now and the desired future. Fear is often a factor for not making the right changes (or any change). Pride is another. We often find that smart people make bad decisions not because they want to make bad decisions, but are blinded to (or they intentionally ignore) warning signs.
Disfunction rules the day when individuals on a leadership team or board of directors take their eyes of the data and people that are telling them there are issues (or dare I say, they are at a critical inflection point) and they go into their own cocoon and start worrying about their own territory (or job, or department).
Here are a few warning signs that indicate it's time for something (or someone) new. Some of these may seem obvious, but as the saying goes..."if I had a dollar for every time someone didn't see or take action on something obvious, I could have retired a long time ago".
As obvious as it sounds, if you see or experience any of these issues, your worst strategy is to keep doing what you are doing. Don't let fear, pride or disfunction stop you from doing what needs to be done to survive and thrive! Be open and responsive to what's going on around you and lead change initiatives based on data, insight and confidence that change is the right thing to do.
Communication may be hard, but good communication is really hard. We're working with several organizations that share a common need: We need more people to know who we are, and we need the people who do know us to more deeply engage. Sound familiar? (And oh, by the way, we need people to understand what we do and why we're different, and why they should engage with us in a 3 word tag line. That should do it, right?)
There are no magic bullets in communications - it takes discipline, hard work and perseverance. Did I mention perseverance? So often CEOs (in particular) and CMOs get frustrated when a given communication or marketing activity doesn't produce an immediate results. Good communications are not transactions — they are the building blocks of relationships. Sticky relationships are your best friend. Sticky relationships require investment and constant communications.
That said, we still need to focus on and produce results. So here is a short list of a few principles to apply to your corporate (and maybe even your personal) communications to help build sticky relationships that turn into real revenue and growth.
Rule #1: Know your audience. There is nothing more important than this principle. If you don't know your audience — what they care about, what their real and felt needs are — you will never build a relationship (and therefore struggle to drive revenue and growth). Good communication (and good relationships) involves asking questions and seeking to understand — not just talking about yourself. It may seem counter-intuitive in a business/marketing setting, but it works. And, don't just do a cursory review of your different types of audiences - really dig deep to understand specific segments, then communicate with each of those segments individually, and in the way(s) they want to communicate.
Rule #2: Know yourself. We are frequently enamored with ourselves. With our products. With our "unique way of doing business". I encourage you to take a deep look at what you do, how you do it, and take the time to do an honest assessment what you do well, and not so well. Define what it is that causes people to want to engage, and keep engaging, with you. Then hone your message around that uniqueness, and position it as "what the customer gets", not "what you do". Words matter. Fewer words are better. Make them count.
Rule #3: Be realistic about your achievable outcomes (and how long it may take to achieve them). This is a tough one in the fast-paced universe we all live in, but being realistic will save you time, money and a lot of headaches. And CEOs, I'm particularly looking at you here! If you have an even slightly complex product or service, this challenge is exacerbated. Getting to know someone who doesn't know you, and doesn't understand your product or service takes time. Building trust takes time. Give it the time it needs and you will be rewarded. Here, perseverance is paramount. Don't give up when you get a limited response. Stick with it. Relationships take time, but pay off big dividends in the long run.
Here's a simple example. We have a client that has traditionally allowed a partner to own the customer relationship, but wants to start co-owning that relationship. So, when they started communicating directly to the customer, there was a lot of "who are you?" responses. This caused them to want to pull back and stop communicating. Converting these "should know us but don't" audiences does not happen through one email, one sales call, or one donor pitch. It takes time to build trust, (and in this case, not alienate the partner that is critical to the relationship).
Bottom line, be focused, be patient, and don't get discouraged. With the right strategy, and a good dose of perseverance, your dedication to effective, consistent communication will produce long-term benefits..
I was planning on writing this post regardless of who won the presidential election, and this post is not intended to be political or defend a political position. If we look carefully at this year's election, there are some great lessons that we as individuals and leaders can apply in our our lives and in our own situations.
My personal reaction to the results from Tuesday night: Wow. My reaction to the entire election process over the past 12-18 months: Yuk. My attitude towards the future: Lets Go!
Here are 5 key takeaways that I believe apply to us as business leaders:
1. Never underestimate your competition. It's easy to be confident in our own vision, in our own capabilities, and to believe our own press. It's much harder to be realistic about the circumstances we face, or the level of effort required to be successful. It's also easy to dismiss our competition as ineffective or weak or of "not having a chance". Resist the urge to do so. Make sure you are doing an honest assessment of your competition and your own capabilities. Operate within those parameters and don't get over confident. Surround yourself with people who will tell you the truth—you won't regret it.
2. Don't believe everything you read. There wasn't a poll, social media pundit, or news station that predicted the outcome of this election. It's easy to blindly believe what people say about you (good and bad). Worse is when you start to believe your own press. It's also easy to get complacent with the status quo and assume that things are fine, even when they are not. Effective leaders are not being swayed by popular opinion, the public media, and social influencers. Stick to and be true to who you are and what your company stands for. And be humble—win or lose.
3. Tenacity trumps tradition. (No pun intended here.) Mr. Trump never wavered in his belief of his ability to win—against all odds I might add. To say he ran a non-traditional campaign would be an understatement. I'm not agreeing with or even commenting on his approach to victory - rather the lesson is in his tenacity. Don't be afraid to do something different. Be maniacally focused on where you are going but don't be afraid to take a different path to get there — the risk is often worth it.
4. Reconciliation is important. Leadership is not a popularity contest, and good leaders understand the importance of bridging divides to keep their organizations running effectively. People will never agree, and differences can be very healthy, but disagreement needs to be carefully managed to avoid disfunction, turnover, or acrimony. Both candidates were conciliatory in their respective victory and defeat and there is a good lesson in their behavior. Leaders need to rise above the fray, not hold things against people who disagree, and work to create a cohesive environment for their teams.
5. Keep your eye on the prize. Agree or disagree with Mr. Trump (or Ms. Clinton for that matter), he was always unwavering in his goal and the effort he put forth to achieve it. He didn't let significant roadblocks overly distract him. Running a business is very similar. There are always thousands of distractions (and lots of detractors) that can take you off your game. Great leaders are vigilant and always keep their eye on the vision, the mission, and the prize and don't let distractions prevent them from achieving success.
As is typical in U.S. presidential elections, about half the people in the country are happy, and about half are sad (or even despondent). As leaders, we must persevere. And, while we should not be overly influenced by outside circumstances, we need to understand them and adapt our strategies to enable our organizations and the people within them to thrive. Lets go!
As a lifelong Cub fan who was born and raised in Chicago, I'm struck by history that was set tonight. 108 years since their last World Series win is (literally) an eternity. The breaking of "the curse", the building of the team, the investment in leadership and players is inspiring.
Cubs Win! Cubs Win! Cubs Win!
Growing up, my father, a north-sider, rooted for the White Sox. Not because he didn't like the Cubs, but he was frustrated with the Wrigley family (who owned the Cubs back then) and their unwillingness to invest in the team so that they at least had a chance of winning. While other teams were recruiting great pitching, great defensive players and people who could hit the ball on to Waveland Avenue on a regular basis, the team leadership relished in the "lovable loser" brand. For decades (and decades and decades), they simply would not do what it took to change their future.
There is clearly some parallels for us as leaders, and for our organizations. Leaders must lead. Leaders must invest in the future of the "franchise". Leaders must invest in getting the right team together to have a chance at winning. Leaders must face and overcome what seem like impossible obstacles (and odds). When this happens, great things happen. If you listen to the players and coaches when asked, "Why did you finally break through? What was special about this team?", the answer was the same: "This team is special — we all have each others back and we never stopped believing". Inspiring indeed.
These characteristics are not just good for the leader — they are critical for the development, encouragement and performance of the team. It builds confidence, encourages them to be part of something bigger than themselves, and gives them a reason to belong. They're even better for customers (fans), Customers want to work with inspired organizations. Organizations that will do what it takes to succeed. Organizations that listen to its customers and have that "we'll do whatever it takes" attitude.
108 years is a long time for the Cubs to go from lovable losers to world champions. I'l leave you with the words of Winston Churchill: "Never, never, never ever give up".
There's been hundreds of books written on the subject, and an entire industry built around coaching CEOs to help them be better leaders. I have a number of friends who have practices that are quite impactful in developing leaders - especially CEOs (a good example is here). And because they come in all shapes, sizes, ages personality types, and even gender and ethnicity (which clearly needs more diversity), the conversation around "what is their role?" tends to be very complex.
But, I don't think it has to be. I believe it's helpful if we simplify it down to three basic things:
#1 — The CEO needs to own the vision and shape the culture
#2 — The CEO needs to be extremely involved in driving revenue (sales + donations)
#3 — The CEO needs build and mentor the right leadership team
After those three, the importance of any activity falls to an almost irrelevant status. Lets briefly look at each of these, and why they are so important.
#1 — Vision and Culture. The single biggest breakdown of organizations is a bad culture and a lack of vision. People want to work for leaders who have a vision — who know where they are going and can motivate people to care enough to go on the journey with them. A poor operating culture is like a slow (sometimes fast) poison. It creeps in and creates dysfunction. No one chooses to work at an organization where the culture is cruddy - they only do so because they need a paycheck. The CEO sets the bar. They establish the rules of cultural engagement and hold everyone accountable to it. If they don't (for example if they say it, but don't enforce it), the culture takes on a life of it's own. Once it's gone, it's very hard to get back. Spend the requisite time to build the vision and make sure people understand it, and how they contribute to achieving it. Build and nurture a culture that reflects who the company is, and make sure you hold people accountable to reinforcing the culture. No exceptions.
#2 — Revenue. This one probably shouldn't need to be said, but as the saying goes, "If I had a nickel for every time…. (in this case, every time a CEO wasn't engaged with customers or donors), I could retire." On a daily, weekly, monthly basis, this is probably the thing that CEOs should be spending most of their time doing. Customers and donors want to see you, hear your vision, understand where you are going and how you are going to get there. They want assurance that the organization is being led by a capable leader. You matter. Your presence and voice, matter. I'd even go so far as to say if you don't want to do this, you shouldn't be the CEO.
#3 — Leadership Team. As Jim Colins wrote about in Good To Great, getting the right people on the bus is paramount to the success of a CEO. It's also paramount to the success of the company. For you to be able to do what you do, you need a highly capable, highly functional (as opposed to dysfunctional) team. That team must be trusted, carriers of the vision, culture and the brand, and able to deliver on their area of expertise. If you have the wrong people on the bus, don't wait. Fix it. Now.
Yes, the job of a CEO involves much more, but at the end of the day, if you are not doing these things, you are not going to grow. You will however, be spending a lot of time dealing with dysfunction, doing other people's jobs, dealing with low morale and high turnover. The choice is yours!
As always, we love your opinions and thoughts!
Today, FBI director James Comey announced that he is recommending that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton not be prosecuted for her actions relating to the years' old personal email server scandal. This despite the fact that "there is clear evidence that they [Ms. Clinton and her staff] were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information". (It's important to note that in this situation, intent to break the law is not required—simply acting with "gross negligence" is enough.) His bottom line? "No reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case". (Forget the fact that the only "reasonable prosecutor" in this situation is the politically-appointed attorney general.)
However, he went on to say, "To be clear, this is not to suggest that in similar circumstances, a person who engaged in this activity would face no consequences. To the contrary, those individuals are often subject to security or administrative sanctions. But that is not what we are deciding now".
It might just be me, but maybe reasonableness, common sense AND integrity have all permanently left the building.
In an extreme effort to not take a political position on this highly politically-charged topic, I would simply say in response to the facts outlined in Mr. Comey's statements: "Huh?" What he is basically saying is, "if it were anyone else, they'd be prosecuted, but given the person, we're going to look the other way." James Taranto of the WSJ said in response, "He detailed its findings, which are damning, and in many cases new, and which prove that most of Mrs. Clinton's public statements about her private email servers were lies."
Without reverting to Sunday school platitudes, this is just plain wrong, and it sends the wrong message to all current and future leaders. Based on my interpretation of the facts, neither Ms. Clinton nor Mr. Comey have displayed real integrity and both are leaders who have chosen do the wrong thing — because it was inconvenient to do the right thing. Our current political leaders could learn a thing or two from PGA tour professionals, who consistently call infractions upon themselves, even when no one is looking or would have known, and when it potentially costs them hundreds of thousands of dollars. Integrity matters.
Good leaders, be they political, business or family need to be held to a higher standard. Good leaders take the high road, even when it's not convenient. Good leaders know that to be trusted with big things, we need to prove we can be trusted with small things. Integrity in the work place is critical. And not just leader to people under their responsibility and authority. Integrity matters to everyone - peer to peer, subordinate to supervisor, parent to child, child to parent, spouse to spouse.
Integrity is not optional . It can't be turned on when it's beneficial to us to do so. Behavior is consistent. You either have integrity or you don't. We must consistently exhibit integrity to others and demand it from them. Without it, we as families, business, and societies will crumble.
Bottom Line: If you want to be a good leader - have integrity - no matter what it might cost you.
And, as much as I've tried to walk the careful line of not being political, I'm sure others will disagree with both my interpretation of this situation and my conclusions. So be it. I'd love to hear from you in either case!
Steve is a husband, father, and business exec. He loves anything outdoors, anything that is a hard challenge, and enjoys working with anyone who wants to continually improve. And golf. He loves golf. Steve is the founder and CEO of Executive Advisory Partners.